President’s restricted powers as Commander-in-Chief

Justice Irene Cortes, who penned the Court’s decision in Marcos v. Manglapus, has opined elsewhere on the grant of plenary executive powers on the President, “[who] personifies the executive branch. There is a unity in the executive branch absent from the two other branches of government. The president is not the chief of many executives. He is the executive. His direction of the executive branch can be more immediate and direct than the United States president because he is given by express provision of the constitution control over all executive departments, bureaus and offices.” (I. Cortes, The Philippine Presidency: A Study of Executive Power, pp. 68-69; cited in Sanlakas v. Executive Secretary et al., G.R. Nos. 159086, 159103, 159185, 159196, 3 February 2004)

The [1935] Philippine [C]onstitution establishes the three departments of the government in this manner: “The legislative power shall be vested in a Congress of the Philippines which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.” “The executive power shall be vested in a President of the Philippines.” The judicial powers shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as may be provided by law.” These provisions not only establish a separation of powers by actual division but also confer plenary legislative, executive, and judicial powers. For as the Supreme Court of the Philippines pointed out in Ocampo v. Cabangis, “a grant of legislative power means a grant of all the legislative power; and a grant of the judicial power means a grant of all the judicial power which may be exercised under the government.” If this is true of the legislative power which is exercised by two chambers with a combined membership [at that time] of more than 120 and of the judicial power which is vested in a hierarchy of courts, it can equally if not more appropriately apply to the executive power which is vested in one official—the president. He personifies the executive branch. There is a unity in the executive branch absent from the two other branches of government. The president is not the chief of many executives. He is the executive. His direction of the executive branch can be more immediate and direct than the United States president because he is given by express provision of the constitution control over all executive departments, bureaus and offices. (Sanlakas v. Executive Secretary, G.R. No. 159085, February 3, 2004)

The esteemed Justice conducted her study against the backdrop of the 1935 Constitution, the framers of which, early on, arrived at a general opinion in favor of a strong Executive in the Philippines.” Since then, reeling from the aftermath of martial law, our most recent Charter has restricted the President’s powers as Commander-in-Chief. The same, however, cannot be said of the President’s powers as Chief Executive. (Sanlakas v. Executive Secretary, G.R. No. 159085, February 3, 2004)

Thus, the President’s authority to declare a state of rebellion springs in the main from her powers as chief executive and, at the same time, draws strength from her Commander-in-Chief powers. Indeed, as the Solicitor General accurately points out, statutory authority for such a declaration may be found in Section 4, Chapter 2 (Ordinance Power), Book III (Office of the President) of the Revised Administrative Code of 1987, which states:
SEC. 4. Proclamations. – Acts of the President fixing a date or declaring a status or condition of public moment or interest, upon the existence of which the operation of a specific law or regulation is made to depend, shall be promulgated in proclamations which shall have the force of an executive order.

The foregoing discussion notwithstanding, in calling out the armed forces, a declaration of a state of rebellion is an utter superfluity. At most, it only gives notice to the nation that such a state exists and that the armed forces may be called to prevent or suppress it. Perhaps the declaration may wreak emotional effects upon the perceived enemies of the State, even on the entire nation. But this Court’s mandate is to probe only into the legal consequences of the declaration. This Court finds that such a declaration is devoid of any legal significance. For all legal intents, the declaration is deemed not written. (Sanlakas v. Executive Secretary, G.R. No. 159085, February 3, 2004)

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